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Thanks to an amendment tucked into the back of a bill signed by
President Clinton last June, veterans are being denied disability
payments for lung cancer, emphysema, or other smoking-related diseases,
because they “smoked on government time” — even though the U.S.
government supplied them with the cigarettes.

“The VA believes veterans compensation benefits were designed to assist
veterans who become ill or are injured in service to their country,”
said Ozzie Garza, a VA spokesman. “It goes beyond the government’s
responsibility to pay compensation for veterans just because they smoked
on government time.”

Read the full article by Kathleen Sullivan of the San Francisco
Examiner, “Government changes disability policy for GI smokers,”
originally published in the Cleveland Plain Dealer on September 7, 1998.

The Sullivan article’s host site is public-health scientist, lawyer, and
risk-assessment expert Steven J. Milloy’s “Junk Science Home Page”, the mission of which is to blow the
whistle on what Mr. Milloy calls “junk science.” That’s the sort of bad
science commonly used and abused by the Center for Science in the Public
Interest (see below), personal injury lawyers, the lifestyle police,
“environmental Chicken Littles,” and regulation junkies. Mr. Milloy’s
impressive biography can be found here; his page receives numerous
daily additions and is an excellent public health resource.

Lifestyle puritanism, part II: caffeine under fire

Last week, during my discussion of the creeping health-and-lifestyle
puritanism abroad in America, I had occasion to mention the doomsaying
crackpots who operate the Center for Science in the Public Interest, or
CSPI, which brought us the Chinese-food and
movie-popcorn scares. I also asked if caffeine, fats, and perfume would
be next after tobacco to come up for expulsion from decent society.

Sure enough, right on cue, last Wednesday Dateline NBC ran a story on
the evils of caffeine, asking breathlessly, “Do Americans know how much
caffeine they consume?” And who
is Dateline’s sole specified (pro-fear) consulting authority? The CSPI -
as you could figure out from the piece’s schoolmarm tone alone, if NBC
hadn’t bothered with direct attribution. “A 12-ounce serving of Sunkist
orange soda equals about a half a cup of coffee,” the story fingerwags.
“In the ice-cream aisle, a cup of Ben & Jerry’s No-Fat Coffee Fudge
Frozen Yogurt has around 70 milligrams of caffeine. That’s nearly
three-quarters of a cup of coffee.” Shocked! Shocked, I am, by the
stunning revelation of this flagrant depravity. (And who’d have thought
caffeine would turn up in coffee-flavored ice cream? Go figure.)

Says Margo Wootan of the CSPI: “The caffeine content of many foods is
similar to what you’ll find in over-the-counter stimulant drugs.” What
she’s talking about are common drugs such as Vivarin and No-Doz that
contain caffeine as their active ingredient. These typically contain 200
milligrams of caffeine per dose, which is less than the 250 milligrams
you’ll find in just one smallest-size (8-ounce) cup of Starbuck’s
coffee. Oh, those evil “stimulant drugs”!

According to the Dateline story, the CSPI is trying to get the FDA to
label caffeine content, to do a major review of caffeine’s health
effects, and, perhaps, to mandate a caffeine “warning label.” Just what
we need: more idiotic regulation. Your tax dollars at work, folks.

What else is the CSPI up to? Read its “Nutrition Action Healthletter” for brilliant examples of investigative
journalism such as “Yogurt: Health Food ¥ or Dessert?” Don’t miss “The
Pressure to Eat: Why We’re Getting Fatter,” which includes a CSPI board
member’s call for “developing a militant attitude about the toxic food
environment, like we have about tobacco ¥ subsidize the cost of healthy
foods, so they cost less; increase the cost of bad foods, so they cost
more; regulate food advertising ¥” Unbelievable. This URL would make a
thoughtful email gift for that special liberal hypochondriac in your
family.

A daily dish of dirt

The Smoking Gun posts a scan each day of
a hard-to-find original document that meets its criteria: “cool,
confidential, quirky.” Their sources: material obtained from government
and law enforcement sources, via Freedom of Information Act requests,
and from court files nationwide. A little of what they’ve got is
significant; most of it’s trivial. Their archive contains such gems as
the psychiatric report on Howard Stern’s stalker, the original Matt
Drudge story on Sidney Blumenthal and its retraction, Linda Tripp’s 1969
arrest report, and a wallet card made for U.S. Customs officials that
explains guidelines for when to do a cavity search. (I know you’ll all
want to look up that last one. It’s here.) In general, though,
most of what’s here is just the frank, sleazy poking of noses into
private business — which, of course, is weirdly fascinating in a nasty
way. If getting a look at stuff like a purportedly-never-paid parking
ticket
of Drudge’s
gives you that warm, snuggly “in the know” feeling, then click on over.

One-stop political surfing

Skip the thousand unrelated sites that any general search engine such as
Yahoo or Lycos will inevitably turn up. “America’s hottest political
online Community,”
Votenet, has a specialized
search engine, designed for politicians, candidates, citizens,
organizations, political consultants, and campaign services. Votenet
also offers close, issue-based tracking of events in Congress, an
efficient communicating-with-Congress resource center, and (in case you
have a few hours a day to spare) about ten thousand ongoing user
discussions.

Get your own free home page and/or email account (Votenet Web sites are
“for the dissemination and promotion of political information only,” but
email is not restricted to political use). Use Votenet’s lists of
opposition researchers, media consultants, pollsters, strategists, you
name it. Have a political field day.

Votenet aspires to be a force for good in American politics, hoping that
offering political candidates free campaign software and free Web sites
will allow them to communicate with more constituents for less money,
and thus to mount more powerful, less expensive, campaigns. It’s worth
the proverbial shot.

The Mysterious Rabbit

It’s just another classic online time waster, really. An interactive
magic trick. Nothing elaborate. Certainly nothing deeply significant.
But the more I think about it, the more it worries me. Try it yourself
here. Anyone who can tell me how this
works. …

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